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Matthias Ruth

This chapter provides an overview of A Research Agenda for Environmental Economics. It sketches the contexts within which the volume was conceived and the main challenges that the discipline must address. Within those contexts, this introductory chapter briefly outlines the key contributions of subsequent chapters and relates their main messages to each other.

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Edited by Matthias Ruth

Presenting critical insights on how economic activity is constrained by the environment’s ability to provide material and energy resources, this timely Research Agenda explores how humanity shapes, and is shaped by, environmental change and sustainability challenges. Chapters highlight how, under these constraints, people may seek to improve their lives and standards of living without undermining the abilities of others to do so now or in the future.
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Edited by Matthias Ruth

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Edited by Matthias Ruth

This volume presents methods to advance the understanding of interdependencies between the well-being of human societies and the performance of their biophysical environment. It showcases applications to material and energy use; urbanization and technological transition; economic growth and social vulnerabilities; development and governance of social and industrial networks; the role of history, culture, and science itself in carrying out analysis and guiding policy; as well as the role of theory, data, and models in guiding decisions.
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Matthias Ruth

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Matthias Ruth

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Matthias Ruth

This chapter traces the interplay of innovation, technological change and economic growth in the context of the biophysical constraints that have, and always will, set the boundaries within which human society flourishes. Special attention is given to the complexities that pose challenges for understanding the role, and guiding the uses of technology. An illustration is provided for the case of energy transitions from non-renewable to renewable fuels. As the illustration highlights, institutional and societal innovations need to accompany innovations in technology to help ensure its deployment in ways that promote sustainability. Also, since sustainability inherently pertains to development paths that unfold over long periods of time in which environmental, social and technological conditions (re-)shape each other in unknown and unknowable ways, multiple criteria, rather than, for example, standard efficiency measures, need to be used to assess (anticipated) technology performance and to guide technology deployment. The chapter closes with a critical perspective on the legal and economic instruments that currently dominate conventional economic policies and the growth objective for which they are used.

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Dodo J. Thampapillai and Matthias Ruth

This chapter provides an alternative basis for analysing economic growth and the consequent perpetuation of climate malaise. The contention herein is that the effectiveness of approaches based on standard neoclassical frameworks of production and factor utilization, regardless of their integration with scientific and related information, is likely to be constrained. This chapter considers a simple expansion of the standard depiction of production processes to illustrate that, even within the confines of traditional methods, mainstream recommendations to address climate change perpetuate rather than get to the root causes of the problem. Specifically, we integrate insights from the laws of thermodynamics and ecological resilience in a production function for macroeconomics to explicitly include the stock of environmental capital (KN) as an argument alongside manufactured capital (KM) and labour (L). Being distinct from the production functions that underlie the work of Nobel Prize-winning economists such as William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, whose work is firmly rooted in the notion that technological change and economic growth will solve the very problems they generate, our basic model yields quite different results. For example, extending the reformulated production function to the context of the Romer model suggests clear possibilities of the need for de-growth in selected economies. Furthermore, the Nordhausian claims of “optimal pollution” and “optimal climate change” could constitute a contraindication. If the term “optimality” must be used at all, then the optimal quantity is zero pollution, which is physically impossible, and zero climate change – which for biogeophysical reasons will not happen either.